With 55 days until Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks travel to Pittsburgh to face Sidney Crosby and the Penguins it's hard to really gauge what the opening night roster will look like at the present moment.
Sure, we know Connor Bedard will be there. For most, that's all that matters right now. Still, whom are some of the players that will likely be fighting for those last spots to crack coach Richardson's line combinations?
If healthy, here are my forwards that should be comfortably in the opening game lineup sheet: 1. Connor Bedard, 2. Taylor Hall, 3. Lukas Reichel, 4. Nick Foligno, 5. Corey Perry, 6. Taylor Raddysh, 7. Philipp Kurashev, 8. Andreas Athanasiou, 9. Tyler Johnson, 10. Ryan Donato
That's 10 out of possible 12 or 13 forward player group that I think you can pencil in right now. Then there is Jason Dickinson that is almost assuredly on the list followed by Colin Blackwell as a 12th forward.
The forwards that will compete for a 12th or 13th spot appear to be; Boris Katchouk, Mackenzie Entwistle, Cole Guttman, Joey Anderson, Reese Johnson, Brett Seney, Anders Bjork, and David Gust. When you break down this list though it's really about Katchouk, Entwistle, Guttman, Anderson, and Johnson.
When considering the line combinations and coach Richardson's style and potential holes I'm left with a last spot battle between Blackwell, Guttman, Katchouk, and Entwistle. After considering many factors and line combinations I believe that Cole Guttman could give the bottom 6 the most offensive push to help depth scoring. Blackwell has 1 / 1.2m remaining and is unlikely to continue with the Hawks past this season. It's time to see what Cole Guttman can bring to an NHL roster given more than a handful of games.
My possible line combinations to start the season:
L1: Hall - Bedard - Raddysh
L2: Reichel - Kurashev - Foligno
L3: Athanasiou - T. Johnson - Perry
L4: Guttman - Dickinson - Donato
Now looking at the defensive core that we have you'll notice that it's quite depleted after trades. Then there is the fact that we will still be waiting on maturity and experience to set in with some of our younger blue line prospects.
There are only 3 veteran players that I would say are in play for opening night: Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, and yes even Nikita Zaitsev. The last name there likely in his final season as a Blackhawk (1 x 4.5m remaining).
After those 3 is where it starts to get interesting. Kevin Korchinski, Wyatt Kaiser, Isaak Phillips, and Alex Vlasic seem to be the main group fighting to be paired with one of the 3 veterans to start the 23-24 campaign. I think Korchinski will start with the NHL club as well as Kaiser whom I think has earned some trust from the bench. Jarred Tinordi also resigned as a depth player that offers size and experience. When considering the final pairing (likely with Zaitsev) it may come down to Phillips, Tinordi and Vlasic. Would a Roos perhaps be the better option just to eat some NHL ice time so those other 3 can get better roles with the Icehogs perhaps?
First things first, all three of our veteran players are right handed D. While that doesn't exclude them from playing the left side it certainly would fit nicely on their strong hand side. Tinordi, Kaiser, Korchinski, Vlasic, Roos and Phillips are all left handed. So that leaves 3 spots for 6 guys. The most likely outcome is that all 6 will see NHL time this upcoming season, however for the purposes of opening night I think the line combinations will look like this:
D1: Kaiser - Jones
D2: Korchinski - Murphy
D3: Roos - Zaitsev
I like Korchinski with Murphy as he can then be the offensive position player to Murphy staying reliable in gap control which should allow him to join the rush if he chooses. I think Kaiser is a steady player that could present a solid pairing for Jones. Roos' inclusion here is so that Phillips and Vlasic can start out with Rockford to help push that team at the start of the season. I expect both Vlasic and Phillips to get their chances this season with the Blackhawks, but to start the season this is the call I'd make. Tinordi offers insurance at both levels and will likely see plenty of NHL ice time this season.
When it comes to our goalies, there is little speculation to be had. The starters (co) will be Petr Mrazek and Arvid Soderblom. I think each should see a 50-50 split and if / when injuries occur with them we could see Jaxson Stauber or even Drew Commesso in a few spot starts.